How can I help boost my mother's mood after her bypass surgery for heart disease?

2 answers | Last updated: Dec 06, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My mom has been struggling with depression ever since she had bypass surgery three months ago. She has good days and bad days, but overall she just doesn't feel like herself. She's always been an upbeat person, and she'd prefer not to take any medication. What can we do to help her get back to normal?


Expert Answers

Dr. Mary Whooley studies the connection between depression and cardiac outcomes at the San Francisco VA Medical Center and UCSF.

First, you need to confirm that she actually has depression. There are a lot of different things that can masquerade as depression, including anemia (from her surgery) and low thyroid activity. She needs to see her doctor to rule those out.

If she’s indeed depressed, she’ll have had five of the nine symptoms of depression for at least two weeks:

  • A depressed mood most of the time
  • Lack of interest and pleasure in doing things most of the time
  • Feelings of excessive guilt
  • Lack of energy
  • Poor concentration
  • Change in appetite
  • Psychomotor retardation or agitation
  • Sleep disturbance (either increased or decreased amount of sleep)
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

Once you've determined that your mother actually does have depression, there are a few options. If she's adamant about not taking medication, she could try cognitive behavioral therapy, which can help her work with the issues in her life at the moment and teach her to think about them differently. Other kinds of psychotherapy are available, but cognitive behavioral therapy is the only form of psychotherapy that has been proven to improve depression in patients with heart disease.

Along with that therapy, I’d try to talk her into trying medication. Help her understand that depression is a disease, like diabetes. Just as diabetic patients may need insulin to maintain normal blood glucose concentrations, depressed patients may need drug therapy to maintain a normal balance of brain chemicals. Sometimes a pill can really help to do that. She can always try it for three months and see if it helps. It's not like a lifetime sentence.

As for what you can do to help her, you need to understand that your mother's depression is coming from the inside. It's important for you not to feel responsible for her mood. If she is irritable, is not very nice to you, or has very low energy, her depression may be the culprit. You shouldn't feel like you're doing something wrong. It can be hard to be around a depressed person, and it can drain your energy. Be sure to take care of yourself while taking care of her.


Community Answers

Ibemaxie answered...

ACTUALLY IT JUST TAKES MORE TIME. IT TOOK MY HUSBAND ABOUT 6 TO 8 MONTHS. JUST OPEN ALL BLINDS AND LET SUNSHINE ALWAYS COME IN. SING WHEN YOU ARE AROUND HER. TELL LITTLE 1 LINER JOKES. I KNOW IT TAKES IT'S TOLL ON THE CAREGIVER BUT IT SURE PAYS OFF IN THE LONG RUN AND BESIDES THAT IT KEEPS YOUR SPIRITS UP. HANG IN THERE, LOTS OF US HAVE BEEN THRU IT.